Painter, Muralist, Educator, Designer
Active in Coronado, Calif.
Sound recordings: 1 sound tape reel ; 5 in.
Transcript: 15 p.
Format: Originally recorded on 1 sound tape reel. Reformated in 2010 as 1 digital wav files. Duration is 49 min.
Collection Summary: An interview of Monty Lewis conducted 1964 June 25, by Betty Hoag, for the Archives of American Art.
Interview conducted at Coronado School of Fine Arts in San Diego, Calif. Lewis discusses his art training at the Art Students' League in N.Y., his study of mural and easel painting in Europe, and his freelance mural work before his involvement with the Public Works of Art Project. He describes the developing presence of mural art in New York with Diego Rivera's mural at Rockefeller Center and the 1939 New York World's Fair. Lewis tells of the Artists, Painters, and Sculptors Collaborators, a collaborative group interested in developing community art projects, and discusses the use of murals in the 1939 New York World's Fair and the different techniques used for those and other public projects.
Biographical/Historical Note: Monty Lewis (1907-1997) was a painter, designer, muralist in New York and California.
Conducted as part of the Archives of American Art's New Deal and the Arts project, which includes over 400 interviews of artists, administrators, historians, and others involved with the federal government's art programs and the activities of the Farm Security Administration in the 1930s and early 1940s.
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- The transcript of this interview is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Monty Lewis, 1964 June 25, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
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Also in the Archives
- Monty Lewis papers, 1928-[ca. 1960.]
- Image and Media Gallery items from other collections related to Lewis, Monty
This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Monty Lewis, 1964 June 25, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Interview with Monty Lewis
Conducted by Betty Hoag
At Coronado School of Fine Arts in San Diego, California
June 25, 1964
The following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Monty Lewis on June 25, 1964. The interview took place in San Diego, CA, and was conducted by Betty Hoag for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
BETTY HOAG: Mr. Lewis, you are director of this school at this time and you were on the Project in New York. Before I ask you about your experiences there I'd like to ask you briefly something about your own life, if you'll please tell us. When and where were you born and where were you educated?
MONTY LEWIS: I was born in Cardiff, Wales, in 1907. My art education was at the Art Students' League in New York from 1924 to 1928. I studied with Kimon (or Simon) Nikolaides and Hayes Miller primarily; and a short time with Boardman Robinson. In 1929, I had an award from the Tiffany Foundation.
BETTY HOAG: What kind was it?
MONTY LEWIS: A Tiffany Foundation award?
BETTY HOAG: Is it much like the Huntington Hartford fellowship here in which you go out to a special place to work?
MONTY LEWIS: Yes. In 1930 I had an award from the Guggenheim Foundation. That was a long time ago. I spent a year and a half in Europe. Of course in the interim previous to that I had done other work, like working on certain murals. I did some other work at Oyster Bay on Long Island in 1929 -30.
BETTY HOAG: Had you studied mural painting with any one person in particular before you did that work?
MONTY LEWIS: That was part of the overall study and activity, mural painting, easel painting. I did some freelance mural decorations, assisting other mural painters in private residences up on Fifth Avenue, in penthouses and things of that sort. Then in Europe, of course I traveled all over studying in museums and galleries, particularly in the field of mural composition and painting. I spent about eight months in Florence, Italy living in a 14th century palace right on the Arno.
BETTY HOAG: Cold?
MONTY LEWIS: Cold as it could be, yes! Ha, ha, ha. Freezing cold in the winter time. We had the fires going all day long. And we traveled all over Italy, Spain, England, France, Germany, Austria, Holland, Belgium and . . . .
BETTY HOAG: What a wonderful experience!
MONTY LEWIS: I spent about nine months continuously traveling to the museums, studying in museums, making studies of famous paintings, and doing a lot of research, that sort of thing. I came back here in 1932, I guess, sometime about then.
BETTY HOAG: Right back to the Depression?
MONTY LEWIS: Right into the middle of the Depression. As I recall, by 1934 the depression had gotten so bad that the government created the first Federal Project called the Public Works of Art Project, PWAP. Well-known painters were invited to participate. They were all the best-known painters and sculptors of the time, men like John Sloan, William Zorach, Kuniyoshi, Reginald Marsh - any number you could think of who really had star-dust names.
BETTY HOAG: Were they contributing their work gratuitously?
MONTY LEWIS: No. They were invited to become part of the initial Project. Mrs. Juliana Force, who was then the Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, was in charge of the Project. Goodrich was then connected with it as well, you know, as Director of the Museum of Modern Art.
BETTY HOAG: Let us come back to the Project later and first bring you out to California, find ut what you are doing here, and then return chronologically.
MONTY LEWIS: Well, I came out in 1942, during the first part of the war. I was having a big exhibition at the Art Students' League in New York in one of the big-name galleries - murals and sketches and drawings, a great number of works, and the exhibition date ended on Dec.7, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day.
BETTY HOAG: So, that was the end of the show and also the end of the Project?
MONTY LEWIS: Yes, the end of the short at least. I don't know if it ended the Project. I'm not sure of that because I wasn't on the Project at that time. I was living out in New Jersey then. Let me see how it was. People at that time from California were in New York attempting to recruit certain types of artists to do some work out Here. They contacted me and I decided to go to California, although it was supposedly a very dangerous time, that first part of the war. I had a house in New Jersey and it was a good thing to get rid of it because it had twelve rooms. It kept me busy stoking fires all the time! Finally I told my family that I had accepted this thing and we were going out to California. But at any rate, with our three children, we started to drive West. And I had a serious accident somewhere down in Tennessee. I didn't get out here until three months later.
BETTY HOAG: Oh, what a shame. That wasn't much of a start for a new life, was it?
MONTY LEWIS: It was hectic out here at that time. Everybody was somehow getting onto the war effort, and I did try to get that kind of job.
BETTY HOAG: Was it with a motion picture studio? So many of the artists . . .
MONTY LEWIS: No. It was in one of the aircraft plants in engineering and technical illustration.
BETTY HOAG: I see
MONTY LEWIS: And I stayed there till the end of the war. During that time I was giving some evening classes. I tried to build up an art class, which I did. Then, right after the war, I got the school going.
BETTY HOAG: You started the school? I didn't know how long you'd been here.
MONTY LEWIS: Yes. I founded the school and its been going ever since. We've had good times and bad times.
BETTY HOAG: Then you are not just the director but you are the owner too?
MONTY LEWIS: Yes.
BETTY HOAG: I'm sorry that I didn't understand it when I introduced you.
MONTY LEWIS: It's all right.
BETTY HOAG: Well, thank you for bringing this up.
MONTY LEWIS: And We've been going steadily for almost 20 years now. Summer, winter, and all day, and half the night.
BETTY HOAG: I can't imagine you have regrets about that 12 room house in New Jersey. It's so beautiful out here!
MONTY LEWIS: No all I did there was to shovel snow. All winter long. To get the car out of the garage. It was terrible. Shovel the ground and shovel coal.
BETTY HOAG: That's one thing you don't have to worry about now.
MONTY LEWIS: No, I should say not.
BETTY HOAG: Just spray the bugs that get on the flowers. When did you first
hear about the Project when you came back from Europe? Were all the artists
in New York talking about it because it had just started about that time?
MONTY LEWIS: Well, I came back in 1932. It didn't start until 1934, I believe. When I came back from Europe I had several exhibitions in galleries on 57th Street in New York. I had some things at the mural show at the Museum of Modern Art when it first opened. First mural show they had. At that time it was in connection with Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller Center was going up, and the Museum of Modern Art had an exhibition of modern mural paintings in an attempt to show the trend, what contemporary American mural painters could do in connection with this possibility.
BETTY HOAG: Was this before Rivera's famous mural?
MONTY LEWIS: Yes, it was before Rivera's mural, yes.
BETTY HOAG: I didn't realize there was such interest in murals before that.
MONTY LEWIS: Before his mural in Rockefeller Center? Of course the interest in Mexican mural art was coming to the fore at that time. Most people who had some inclination and activity in the mural field were invited to participate in this show. Let's see, there were George Biddle, Henry Varnum Poor, Ben Shahn, Georgia O'Keeffe.
BETTY HOAG: The "skull and roses lady"?
MONTY LEWIS: Yes. And Reginald Marsh and Kimon Nikolaides, John McToca, quite a number. I still have the catalogue which I'll show you.
BETTY HOAG: Oh good. It must have been an interesting show.
MONTY LEWIS: It was a very interesting show, although it didn't go over well. It was the first modern mural activity actually, aside from Thomas Hart Benton who was attempting it at that time. He was trying to project his ideas into the mural field. It was the first time any murals in a modern vein had been developed. Stuart Davis - quite a number of others. But I don't think the critics were very favorable to it.
BETTY HOAG: These were not actual murals?
MONTY LEWIS: No. These were cartoons and drawings. You see, we were given a particular project, a particular three-panel mural to design. It was to be concerned primarily with modern activity. One section of it was to be executed full-scale, 4 x 7' or 5 x 7', something like that, just one detail. But the entire mural was to be sketched. Our project was the sketch in the completed form.
BETTY HOAG: What was your subject? Do you remember?
MONTY LEWIS: Mine was "New York Holiday".
BETTY HOAG: What was that? Coney Island?
MONTY LEWIS: No. It was midtown New York with all the skyscrapers and buildings and people and that sort of thing. It was very interesting but nothing much came of it. Oh, let me see, what happened after that? Of course after that was Rivera in Rockefeller Center. He was given a job there with the Spanish architect, Jose Mario Sert. He was a fabulous sort of painter. Then there was a British painter who had rather a mild approach. I recall at that particular time when Rivera was painting his mural, I asked him if he wouldn't have his photograph taken with Sert but "nothing doing". Ha, ha, he actually refused.
BETTY HOAG: He wanted to be all alone for his picture?
MONTY LEWIS: Well, he didn't value Sert's work at all. Let me see. I may not be quite right here. I think they brought Sert in after the Rivera mural was toned down.
BETTY HOAG: To do one in its place?
MONTY LEWIS: To do one, in place of it.
BETTY HOAG: I see.
MONTY LEWIS: In the same location. It was the other painter, the British painter by the name of (........). The first part of the Public Works Project related on to artists invited to participate, then that moved into other phases, I suppose because the Depression got so bad at that time. . .
BETTY HOAG: Was this the time in New York when the artists banded together and formed the Artists' Union.
MONTY LEWIS: No, that came several years later, I believe, a couple of years later.
BETTY HOAG: After the Depression became even more severe.
MONTY LEWIS: Yes. The depression got more severe. Practically all the artists were in a very bad way. Of course we were all in a bad way, everybody was.
BETTY HOAG: But the professionals especially . . .
MONTY LEWIS: Yes.
BETTY HOAG: Were you one of the invited artists?
MONTY LEWIS: I was one of the invited group, yes, the original group.
BETTY HOAG: Were you invited to do murals or easel paintings? Did you have a choice?
MONTY LEWIS: I had a choice, yes. Most of the artists just did what they had been doing. John Sloane and Edward Hopper I think were on it. All the well-known people were invited to participate. that I believe came the Works Progress Administration . . .Federal Works of Art. Projects which began with something else that was connected with the Washington office.
BETTY HOAG: At the same time when there were the Treasury commissions?
MONTY LEWIS: Yes. Edward Bruce became direct of that.
BETTY HOAG: That was the competitive one in which post office murals were awarded.
MONTY LEWIS: There were several areas of activity, I guess. Then all the various states took up the idea of the vast federal project, as you know. Most of the artists who are well-known today, who are big names today, sell their works for large prices, Most were connected with the Project at that time. There were very good artists, very fine artists.
BETTY HOAG: Pasadena had a wonderful show two or three Months ago. Did you get up for it? It was from the Museum of Modern Art and it was a "Before and After" show of 18 of them. And the "before" works were Project period works and the "after" works of course what they are doing today. It was just absolutely fabulous. Most of them were still in the same vein, you could trace the roots very quickly. I think it was quite an eye-opener to the community to realize how many Project people became really famous. Did you do any of the Treasury commissions?
MONTY LEWIS: No, I didn't do any Treasury commissions. I never submitted any work to the Treasury. Then in 1939, when the New York World's Fair came along, we had two mural societies, the National Society of Mural Painters (for which I was on the Board of Directors at one time) and the Mural Artists' Guild. They are both societies. The New York World's Fair of 1939 . . . let's see . . .I hope you don't mind these lapses?
BETTY HOAG: No.
MONTY LEWIS: We had a group called the Artists, Painters, and Sculptors Collaborators. It was the first group of its kind. It was formed in an attempt to get the New York World's Fair interested in certain types of developing art activity. This group was concerned with a community art center.
BETTY HOAG: You mean creating a physical center for them?
MONTY LEWIS: A physical one.
BETTY HOAG: For just mural work?
MONTY LEWIS: No, for painting sculpture and architecture. It was the first project of its kind since the early Greek days.
BETTY HOAG: Oh, how exciting!
MONTY LEWIS: And we had several sculptors. There were Jose Ruis de Ribera, William Zorach, Noguchi, and (. . .) Hockovie. For the sculptors connected with it. There was a famous Philadelphia architect associated with this group. And there were 10 or 12 general painters. We did this model which you can see here (he shows a photograph), which was the first developed community art center project.
BETTY HOAG: Oh, how beautiful! Was it built?
MONTY LEWIS: It was never built.
BETTY HOAG: But the whole project was shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. That is William Zorach's group. And here is Jose Ruis de Ribera. Now he's doing these things . . .
BETTY HOAG: Silver loop kind of things?
MONTY LEWIS: Yes. These are the first use of designed and developed sculptural forms like what are now seen often in children's zoos and playgrounds, the practical application of sculptural form.
BETTY HOAG: Were they used as playgrounds for children or were they just decorative for the fountain?
MONTY LEWIS: Well, these were in the center pool, yes. They were to be used that way somewhat: shapes to swim around and bump against in the basin. Noguchi did some . . .I don't quite remember what he did. I'm not too sure but some aspects of shapes to swim around and bump against the basin.
BETTY HOAG: This was certainly a forerunner.
MONTY LEWIS: It was a forerunner of sculptural playground equipment used all over this country. It cost about $400,000 to build, and although nothing came of it as far as the Fair was concerned, still a good many painters and sculptors who worked on it got jobs at the Fair, you see.
BETTY HOAG: I see; because of it.
MONTY LEWIS: To some extent, Zorach did some things and Fester did the RCA building. A great many others did other things, and so on and so forth. I worked on the Museum of Modern Man building.
BETTY HOAG: On murals?
MONTY LEWIS: On murals, yes. Oh a great many of us did work.
BETTY HOAG: Did it lead directly into any other work for you at the Fair?
MONTY LEWIS: Yes, I did a great many things - including a big outside mural. And many of the others did other work. The whole project was exhibited at the Architectural League in New York. And the Museum of Modern Art showed most of it after that.
BETTY HOAG: For the tape, I'm going to give the name of the magazine. We are looking at the "Magazine of Art", May 1937. They have it available I'm sure back at the Archives.
MONTY LEWIS: It was the first real attempt to coordinate the three arts since the days of the Greeks. The Museum of Modern Art said that, anyway.
BETTY HOAG: Sounds likely. I certainly don't know of any other, do you?
MONTY LEWIS: No, but then, somehow or other people all went their own ways after that.
BETTY HOAG: It's too bad it was never built. It would have been a wonderful thing.
MONTY LEWIS: Yes, it would have been a wonderful thing because the ideas incorporated in it are now used extensively.
BETTY HOAG: Sometimes it takes this long for things to bear fruit.
MONTY LEWIS: It always does.
BETTY HOAG: What happened after that was over then?
MONTY LEWIS: The Fair continued for two years, although the artists who'd worked the first year weren't used the second. They just used the same things again. It was a wonderful fair, a much better fair than the one we have today. It was most exciting because all those things were new at that time. These things that they have at the present are sort of a rehash of the Fair of 1939.
BETTY HOAG: The catalogues of the 1939 Fair are very exciting.
MONTY LEWIS: Oh yes. All these things were just coming into being then, you see. It was very exciting: "The Temple of May" and the tremendous "Power Activity" and "Futurama" and General Motors thing. They just have the same things today. How long has it been?
BETTY HOAG: I'm afraid it's been 16 years.
MONTY LEWIS: 16 years? Fifteen years ago, yes. The same thing only that was larger, more exciting, it seems to me anyway. I spent about three months there. Practically every country in the world was represented and I don't think that is so with this year's fair.
BETTY HOAG: In fact, I think American art had a hard time getting into It at all, didn't it?
MONTY LEWIS: This year?
BETTY HOAG: Yes. I understand that Argentina withdrew so that they now are going to have one exhibit building for American art after all.
MONTY LEWIS: There was a tremendous lot of art work done in 1939. One man should be given a great deal of credit for much of the art activity In connection with murals. (Practically every building had murals on it.) That man was Earnest P. Chouteau. Earnest P. Chouteau was then art commissioner of the City of New York and he was a member of a governing board of the New York World's Fair at that time. He was also president of the National Society of Mural Painters. He laid out the color pattern of the Fair. There were certain areas of red, yellow, green, blue, red or white where all the buildings in that particular area were painted those colors. I doubt whether there was a building that didn't have some sort of mural decoration on it.
BETTY HOAG: I didn't realize that. It must have been wonderful!
MONTY LEWIS: There was a tremendous amount of mural work alone with the Diorama construction, that kind of thing and a great deal of sculptural work. And of course they had very large exhibitions of contemporary paintings. It was really an art fair. I was on the award jury for the selection of the best murals in the Fair.
BETTY HOAG: Oh, really?
MONTY LEWIS: There were so many of them we could hardly get around to see all of them.
BETTY HOAG: A great many artists from all over the country had done work on the Project earlier, hadn't they? Did they show any works from the Project? Perhaps because the government owned those things they couldn't.
MONTY LEWIS: You mean in the exhibits of American art?
BETTY HOAG: Yes. They must have, because Mr. Hard's "Aztec", for instance, was shipped back for the Fair.
MONTY LEWIS: Was it? I didn't think so.
BETTY HOAG: I believe it was.
MONTY LEWIS: I think probably one section was devoted to that. But they had so many exhibits. They had foreign exhibits of paintings, etc. I remember they had a wonderful exhibit of French contemporary tapestries. Magnificent things. It was when they were first being produced, you know.
BETTY HOAG: Yes. Was that Jean Larked?
MONTY LEWIS: Yes. That was Larked and his group. And tapestries by all well-known French painters at that particular time.
BETTY HOAG: Is that when the Ibizan industries were reopened for the first time in a hundred years or something?
MONTY LEWIS: Yes. Larked was the first to project and develop the new industry. They didn't have Michelangelo's "Pietas" or anything of that sort but they
BETTY HOAG: . . .managed to get along with their own?
MONTY LEWIS: Yes. They had international shows as well. It was really what you could consider a read art fair. Art all over the place, everywhere.
BETTY HOAG: Did you do any work on the Project after the Fair?
MONTY LEWIS: Yes. Then I was connected with the New Jersey Project. I became head of the mosaic aspect for the state.
BETTY HOAG: Oh really! Did they do much mosaic work there?
MONTY LEWIS: I introduced the mosaic craft to them.
BETTY HOAG: Oh, you did?
MONTY LEWIS: They started mosaic activity for the first time in connection with murals, contemporary modern art.
BETTY HOAG: Did you have any communication with Al King here in California at that time? He was doing the big Long Beach Auditorium which was employing hundreds of people at times. I wondered how you solved some problems which you must have had the same as he did - having some workers who were excellent artisans and some who were not; times when the mosaics came out irregularly until something was done. He told me that in order to alleviate that he had all the tesserae cut in little squares and did not attempt to achieve a regular pattern. It was supposed to be an irregular thing, so that then people didn't lay them too carefully, it didn't show up. Did you run into that problem?
MONTY LEWIS: Well, I sort of trained most of the people connected with it.
BETTY HOAG: Oh, so they did lay them correctly?
MONTY LEWIS: I supervised the development of it. Primarily we used glazed tiles like these (showed photographs). Actually that was the first time those were ever used for mosaic tiles.
BETTY HOAG: Oh yes. Did you do your own grouting or did you . . .?
MONTY LEWIS: Oh yes, my own grouting. Here are so more photographs.
BETTY HOAG: Oh, good. How interesting. Was that done at the time?
MONTY LEWIS: Here are the ones that I designed (he designates photographs.
BETTY HOAG: About how many mosaic murals did the Project do, do you remember?
MONTY LEWIS: We didn't do too many. It took so long. Of course I don't know because I left there to come out here. There were 5 or 6 large floor mosaics in several buildings and two large wall mosaics.
BETTY HOAG: Were these for public buildings?
MONTY LEWIS: These were public buildings.
BJ: Courthouses or schools?
MONTY LEWIS: Schools and UNESCO buildings; mostly for schools. They were done about 1941, I believe, something like that.
BETTY HOAG: Did you do any fresco murals at the time?
MONTY LEWIS: I did some frescos in New York.
BETTY HOAG; On the Project?
MONTY LEWIS: Yes, a large fresco in New York - a series of frescos, about 1500 square feet.
BETTY HOAG: My goodness! I hope you have some material telling about them.
MONTY LEWIS: I don't think I have any here....
BETTY HOAG: Were you active in any of the other Project work in New Jersey or did they have any other art projects?
MONTY LEWIS: Oh, yes, they had other art projects but I wasn't associated with any of the others. I was only there for about a year, I think.
BETTY HOAG: The mosaic one must have kept you busy anyway.
MONTY LEWIS: Yes. Of course, like all of the other projects, they had had them going for some time, painting and mural projects, that sort of thing. But I wasn't connected with it.
BETTY HOAG: Mr. Lewis, as a researcher, I find one of the things that is hard to do is to find names of people who were on the Projects. Do you remember any of them so I can send them to the Archives person in New Jersey who might be able to find some of the people who were working for you there?
MONTY LEWIS: Oh, gee . . .
BETTY HOAG: Or is it too long ago?
MONTY LEWIS: It's been a long time and I wasn't there very long.
BETTY HOAG: Yes. If any names occur to you later, I'd appreciate having you tell me.
MONTY LEWIS: All right.
BETTY HOAG: After you came out to California and started your Coronado School, I know that you were teaching mural painting here. As far as I know it was the only school at that time teaching people how to do fresco. That certainly was a direct result of your early training and part of your work on the Project, wasn't it?
MONTY LEWIS: To some extent you might say that, yes. Naturally it was a direct result of my studies in Europe because I had made a very considerable study of mu5rals in Europe - mural methods and approaches, concepts and so on.
BETTY HOAG: I hoped I'd be able to bring out the point that it was because you'd done it on the project that you became interested, but obviously you were a mural painter before it started and you probably would have painted them anyway!
MONTY LEWIS: I'd done murals in public places and residences before the Project came into being. That is, my interest was in that field.
BETTY HOAG: Do you think that the Federal Project mural s aided or retarded the history of mural painting in this country?
MONTY LEWIS: Oh, as far a the murals go in this country, I don't suppose they had any real mural painting in this country until the Federal Arts Project came along - at least vital mural painting. Most of the mural painting which was being done was a very academic type of glorified, pretty pre-Raphaelite sort of thing. There were one of two good mural painters, like John LaFarge. But most of the others were primarily imitations, starchy and worked over approaches, acceptable to the general public. However, a good many of the buildings that were being erected were primarily associated with other eras, too, and not contemporary in feeling or related in any way to our own contemporary society.
BETTY HOAG: To them "Carnegie Library murals" would be one way of identifying them, wouldn't it? Ha, Ha.
MONTY LEWIS: Probably I have that catalogue of the mural exhibition from the Museum of Modern Art here someplace.
BETTY HOAG: Shall I turn this off while you look?
MONTY LEWIS: Yes.
BETTY HOAG: Is there anything else that you've thought of about the Projects that we should talk about?
MONTY LEWIS: I think the entire period of the projects themselves was unquestionably one of the most stimulating and inventive art movements this country has ever had, before or since.
BETTY HOAG: In general you think it was well worthwhile then?
MONTY LEWIS: Oh, unquestionably. There was a great movement of works done all of the country and they still exist. It gave a tremendous interest to the younger painters, and it gave assistance to so many of the great talents. It preserved the abilities of many of the important people in the arts. No telling what might have happened without it.
BETTY HOAG: The study of the whole period has been so neglected. I think it is only rather recently that we have because conscious of what good work was done. All over California there seems to be a revival of interest - exhibits of works from the period.
MONTY LEWIS; I think there is no question about it. The stimulation it provided for real talent and real ability was probably greater than any other factor, from the point of view of the value for the country itself and for the artists.
BETTY HOAG: Yes. In a way it was rather like Italy at her great time, with guilds, wasn't it? You probably felt this with your group of mosaic workers where you had many people being trained. If you taught them to do this right it must have had that after-affect.
MONTY LEWIS: Well, I wouldn't make that comparison because of course in the guilds there were artists who projected through their whole lifetime the tradition and continuity of the arts. The Project sprang up out of nowhere and lasted a comparatively short time. The difference between the Federal Arts Project and the great renaissance development was of course that the Renaissance was a continuing development from the earliest medieval times all the way through the latter part of the 18th Century, over a period of several hundreds of years: a continuity of tradition and background, of development and growth. The Project came entirely "out of the blue", you might say, and ended just as quickly. So that continuity has been lost. If the interest nationally developed generation to generation then they might have something like a great Renaissance concept.
BETTY HOAG: I think we have two bills before the government now, one in California and one national, to get some kind of art sponsorship again.
MONTY LEWIS: National sponsorship of the arts, yes.
BETTY HOAG: It has been interesting for me to talk to the different people about how much it helped them having aid from the government that way. I wonder if it could be done again without involving politics?
MONTY LEWIS: It's very difficult.
BETTY HOAG: It is a thorny problem.
MONTY LEWIS: Yes, it is a thorny problem. It's always difficult. Of course the Renaissance did not have anything to do with government sponsorship, per se, you know. That whole mass of development had to do with artistic sponsorship entirely on a grand scale. The Church was a dominant factor of course, the governing sponsor. So there is a parallel there with the sponsorship of the federal government and in this particular period.
BETTY HOAG: Well, unless you have some more to add to this . . . ?
MONTY LEWIS: No, that's about what I can bring to mind at this point.
BETTY HOAG: I certainly appreciate your talking to me and telling me these things.
MONTY LEWIS: It was delightful to talk to you.
BETTY HOAG: It was very interesting. The Archives thanks you for the use of the things to be microfilmed also.
MONTY LEWIS: You're very welcome.
END OF INTERVIEW
This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Monty Lewis, 1964 June 25, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.